Berkeley playwright dreamed up tale of post-human robot museum curators during walks in the Rose Garden

Miyoko Conley, a grad student at Cal, was selected to have her play performed at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival the weekends of July 16 and 25.

Miyoko Conley. Her new play Human Museum will be presented in the 2021 Bay Area Playwrights Festival. Credit: Stephen Meyerink

If you’ve ever been curious about how a new play transitions from its creator’s page to the stage, you should become acquainted with the Playwrights Foundation (PF). It’s a national nonprofit organization, which for 44 years has given support, career development and a dynamic annual platform to talented emerging playwrights.

Each year, PF holds the Bay Area Playwrights Festival, a live public readings of five new plays by contemporary authors who have been selected by an exhaustive submission, reading and elimination process. According to Jessica Bird Beza, PF’s executive artistic director, 755 play submissions were received this year and read by PF’s staff and literary council. Of the 35 finalists, the winning five selectees were then introduced to “directors, actors, and dramaturgs for them to choose with whom to collaborate. The authors then have two months to put the pieces in place and get ready for the public presentation in July,” said Beza. Each work is performed on successive weekends, July 16 and 25, giving the authors time to revise their writing after the first reading, if they choose.

This year, one of the fortunate selectees is Berkeley’s Miyoko Conley, who is completing her UC Berkeley Ph.D. in Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies with a Designated Emphasis in New Media. As Conley described to Berkeleyside, her two-act, six-character sci-fi drama, Human Museum, “is set one hundred years after the last human is extinct and the earth has died. Artificially intelligent robots have re-invigorated the earth and are curating a museum exhibit.” They wish to commemorate humankind when fate intervenes.

Conley has long been attracted to the concept of robots, perhaps related to her interest in gaming. “Humans project a lot onto robots,” she told Berkeleyside.

Beza, PF’s artistic director, said Human Museum, “presents an extension of humanity through a lens of beautiful humor and connection, that can also hit you in the gut. It poses the existential question: How long will humans be able to live on this earth, especially with global warming?”

“Long walks through Berkeley streets and the Rose Garden gave me the mental space to think through my writing process,” Conley said. She was “excited and surprised by the high level of support” from PF, and “is looking forward to observing the live performances of her work.” Her next move up the professional playwright’s ladder is to “try for a literary agent, other festivals, open calls or a playwright-in-residence opportunity.”

Although PF accepts submissions throughout the U.S., two of the top five slots are reserved for Bay Area artists. Since its inception in 1976, more than 500 prize-winning, nationally significant playwrights have received their first professional experience at the PF. Among the American theater’s brightest voices who are alumni of the festival are Pulitzer Prize winners Sam Shepard, Nilo Cruz, Jackie Sibblies Drury, Paula Vogel and Annie Baker; MacArthur Award winner Anna Deavere Smith; Tony Award winner David Henry Hwang; and acclaimed playwrights Lauren Gunderson, Rajiv Joseph, Jonathan Spector, Katori Hall, Christopher Chen, Lauren Yee, Madhuri Shekar, and Marcus Gardley.

Tickets are now available for the online live readings online or by phone at 415-626-2176, on a sliding scale for individual readings ($5-$20) or an All-Access Festival Pass ($25-$175). This pass includes access to all festival readings and an invitation to all events, including two in-person gatherings, one per festival weekend.

Longtime East Bay resident Emily S. Mendel has been Berkeleyside’s freelance theater and art critic since 2012.